vaecrius: A little yellow ant in the grass on a sunny day. (yellow ant)
[personal profile] vaecrius
This started off as a comment to the discussion here, but it both grew and degenerated into its own thing. Hopefully a bit more coherent than my last meditation on this.

With respect to the contrast between the perspective in Byzantine icons (and even most medieval art) versus the "realistic" style of post-Renaissance work, one thing that always strikes me is how much the former resembles the perspective in video games before 3D "photo"-realism became the norm.

For a particularly striking example: doorways in tile-based or isometric CRPGs (scroll down to "Chestyrre approaches a house to the south" and the second screenshot after that) and the door leading out to the world at the bottom of the Pentecost icon. The fact that even current games show a need to go "back" to this portrayal underscores the point about different needs.

(Also this icon of the Fall reminds me of the style of the Golden Axe games, but the latter is more of a technical limitation than a design decision, so not quite as good an example even if in my view more visually striking.)

This excellent discussion shows how much even "photo"-realistic depictions, literally mathematically perfect by Renaissance perspective rules (an unaided computer cannot do otherwise), need to be tweaked and adjusted to begin to function in a way that allows the most basic interactions one might expect in real life. Of note: a personal face-to-face interaction is the most difficult; violent games routinely render the player's own weapon (i.e., the player's primary means of participation) with a different perspective. And, of course, the first comment about monitor size and distance - which is entirely applicable to icons. And, of course, the way the person's face changes with the different FOV.

And, of course, actual photography requires a great deal of preparation and overhead before the machine you're using can reasonably approximate what you see.

So with all that in mind I can think of two main ways in which this manner of perspective works:

First, by drawing emphasis on what actually is necessary to depict, without cutting them off unrecognizably, obscuring other elements or requiring a great deal of irrelevant white space. (Consider, for instance, how tiny Jesus would be on your typical Transfiguration or Anastasis icon if rendered with modern perspective rules!)

Second, of which the first may be a subset, is the proper positioning of each element so that the player viewer might interact comfortably with it.

I write this with one specific example in mind: the Theotokos icon on the iconostasis in our church, which is based on this one (top row, second from the right). The ordinary manner of venerating this icon is to bow before it and kiss the Mother of God's right hand, as one might a priest in receiving a blessing. (Christ's feet are also kissed but that is another matter.) Her hand, however, is ostensibly also supporting Christ's weight; she'd have to move it and adjust Him for this purpose. The priest can simply swap hands; the icon cannot be animated to show the Theotokos doing this. (We might be able to do it now but the result would start dipping into the uncanny valley.)

This leaves us 3 options:
  1. Theotokos holding Christ in her left hand, stuck in a "kiss the ring" pose. Very effective for this 5-second exchange and nothing else (i.e., the rest of the 0.5-2+ hours that you're in there facing the icon).

  2. Theotokos holding Christ in her right hand, Renaissance perspective. You venerate Mary, bend awkwardly and kiss Christ's arse. Humbling, maybe, but inappropriate (and not in a good way).

  3. The in-between perspective we actually see on the icon so venerated.
This may be related to the (relative!) lack of statuary: this sort of trick simply does not work with a 3D model. Another trick: a picture of someone looking at you always looks like it's looking at you except at the most oblique angles, but a lone statue looking at what is in front of it is more often than not staring into nothing in particular (which at best makes the depicted seem remote and distant, at worst evokes Psalm 135:16).

Unrelated to perspective but related to design, one thing that always strikes me about the labels on icons is how difficult they are to read - even the ones in English are heavily stylized, longer words broken up and longer phrases mashed together in very reader-unfriendly ways, to the point of not being immediately recognizable as text, or at least text in one's own vernacular. This, I have come to believe, if it weren't deliberate before, is a bug-become-feature: we don't want to be reading any text without conscious effort - the immediately obvious focus should be the image of the person represented.

I'm sure there are other more concrete examples, but nothing in particular springs to mind now.

(And I don't think I'll really "get" anytime soon those icons that (trigger warning: literal graven image) are embossed shiny metal everywhere except a little window through which is a painting of the person's face.)

I know this

if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.

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